By Matt Reese
There are a number of universal truths involved with farming and one of them seems to be that farmers are quick to help, but not so quick to accept it. Sometimes, though, famers need a helping hand.
Heading into March 15, many parts of Nebraska and Iowa were setting up for a disaster. In the case of the small towns of North Bend and Morris Bluff, Neb. about 50 miles northwest of Omaha, there was around 18 inches of snow on the ground that melted in a 48-hour period. The ground underneath was frozen so all of the snowmelt ran off into rivers and streams that were already flooding due to the large snowmelt further upstream. Then a couple of inches of rain fell and the combination led to extensive, devastating flooding. Small towns were plagued with terrible water quality issues as sewer systems backed up and filled basements. The surrounding farms were swamped with mountains of debris and extensive damage to assess as spring planting draws near.
In total, 81 of the 93 counties in Nebraska are currently experiencing a state of emergency declaration with historic flooding and catastrophic losses of over $600 million. The resulting devastation left many farmers in need of some help. Tate Emanuel farms in the area with his family and was helping unload supplies brought in from Ohio volunteers on a very chilly Saturday morning on March 30.
“We raise corn, soybeans, seed corn, and we have some cows. We had some silt and sand and debris in our fields but it is nothing compared to what some of the farmers down in the bottom river ground are facing. They were affected much worse. The town is finally starting to get cleaned up a little bit. The sewers are finally back up and running at full capacity and the water is finally drinkable,” Emanuel said. “There are some farmers who lost complete fields. The river brought in hundreds of acres of sand and made holes and new channels in fields that probably won’t be farmable this year. It was a bad mixture of conditions. Our ground was still frozen. The water had nowhere to go but run off and it escalated quickly. Dikes blew out and it was only a matter of time before everyone got affected.”
In the lower parts of the pasture on the Hines farm, just outside of Morris Bluff, the water got nearly 10 feet deep as it flowed through the cattle pastures.
“Back on March 15 the Platte River busted out of its banks and water came through depositing dirt and sand on the grass and also ripping out our fences,” said Alex Hines. “We are still assessing the damage we have to work through. We’ll be building fence in the pastures and getting them ready for the upcoming grazing season. Farms in the area have had their topsoil washed away and the center pivot gearboxes will be another issue with water getting into them. One of the biggest challenges has been assessing what has gotten into basements with sewage backing up. It has been a week to 10 days of cleanup effort so far and it definitely won’t be an early planting season this year.”
Beebe Seed Farms, Inc. near North Bend is facing an uphill battle as more damage from the flooding continues to be revealed with
cleanup efforts getting started. The farm produces seed and commodity corn and soybeans and beef in a cow-calf operation.
“Thursday of the event there was a levee break about a mile and a half west of our place and the ice chunks and water started pouring over and moving in our direction. We are in the middle of calving. When we saw that starting to unfold we loaded some calves on a trailer and threw open the gates and left the cows to find their own high ground and we evacuated. We took the calves to a friend’s place and the guys and their spouses, and dads, and girlfriends were bottle-feeding 20 calves twice a day. Right now we are just starting cleanup,” said Greg Beebe. “We are just now getting to assess what we’re up against. Were finding sandbars that have been deposited, trees, branches and barbed wire in the fields and holes that have
been left. We are picking up debris, cleaning irrigation pivot towers and pulling posts that are mangled. We have never been through an event like this so we are learning as we go.”
The sand deposits are variable and up to around 2 feet deep in some places in the productive, 200-bushel corn fields on the Beebe farm.
“Some of this ground is going to be slow to get back into productivity. I think our strategy is going to be where the sand is not too terribly deep we’re going to scrape it off and use that to fill the holes. We are going to use cover crops where a grain crop is not really feasible this year. We’ll try to get some oats, sudangrass or millet going to get the ground to awaken and get some organic matter going,” Beebe said. “One of our challenges is that we can’t access our pastures right now and we will need some feed resources. Hopefully the cover crops can get our ground started with productivity and also maybe feed some animals in the process of transition.”
Beyond the farm, Beebe serves as a township trustee and has started to tackle the overwhelming challenges community wide.
“We just got the go-ahead from the county to fix whatever challenges and emergencies we had by whatever means we could with local farm equipment and rented heavy equipment. The county has been very supportive as far as information, getting us set up with accounts with FEMA and documentation of all of those places where we had to do emergency work. It could take months and even years to get funding back. We have emergency funds locally that are being deployed too,” Beebe said. “The community has been helping out as they can and people have been patient as we work through this.”
Locally the effort has been incredible with area communities rallying together to address the extensive challenges. In addition, groups of volunteers from around the nation have arrived on the scene to bring needed fencing supplies, feed, hay, and other items to help farms. A group from Ohio, including senior members of the Wynford FFA Chapter in Crawford County, came out to help the cleanup effort on Beebe Seed Farms in late March.
“The response has been phenomenal from local volunteers running the donation depot, people have been fixing meals, and neighbors have been putting up neighbors who had to evacuate. There have been groups coming from all over to help. The FFA group that came yesterday has absolutely transformed our landscape by doing stuff that we could not have done ourselves,” Beebe said. “We did not really realize how much we were needing a little bit of help until this group from Ohio showed up. They came in with all of their energy and their tools and supplies. They just went to work and started picking up stuff and cleaning up things. It was really an uplifting experience not only to have the work get started, but just to be around that kind of positive attitude.”